Colorectal Cancer Bolder in Gen Y

Colorectal cancer more advanced in younger patients who live longer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It's certainly unusual, but colorectal cancer does appear in people younger than age 50. You would think that the disease might be gentler in this age group, and you would be wrong. There's a positive twist to this story, though.

Compared to patients aged 50 and older, younger people are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced colorectal tumors that are more likely to spread sooner.

Despite these dreary facts, younger colorectal cancer patients live about as long, if not longer than older patients.

"Don't ignore bowel changes - speak with your doctor."

Edith Mitchell, MD, a clinical professor of medical oncology at the Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, led the observational study.

“We’re seeing more advanced tumors in this population because the cases aren’t being caught early enough,” Dr. Mitchell said. “Screening isn’t recommended until age 50, and the younger a patient is, the more likely they are to ignore symptoms of more advanced stages of the disease.”

The most common symptom of colorectal cancer is a change in bowel habits.

These changes can include: having either diarrhea or constipation, feeling that your intestine isn’t emptying completely, finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool, finding your stools are narrower than usual, frequently having gas pains or cramps; feeling full or bloated, losing weight for no known reason, feeling very tired all the time, having nausea or vomiting.

Dr. Mitchell's team obtained and compared data from the tumor registry of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) -- information pertaining to about 295,000 people who were treated for colorectal cancer between 1988 and 2004.

Researchers found that people under the age of 50 were initially diagnosed with more advanced stage tumors than people over the age of 50. The younger group was also more likely than their elders to have lymph node involvement and metastasis (spreading) to nearby tissue, but less likely to have lung metastasis.

In spite of these negatives, younger people either lived longer than or about the same amount of time as those over age 50. Early indications suggest younger patients are better able to handle more aggressive treatments because they have fewer complicating health conditions.

“Ongoing studies will help clarify the survival disparity and assess differences in treatment and molecular features between younger and older colorectal cancer patients,” Dr. Mitchell said.

Findings from this research were presented at the 2012 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting. Research is considered preliminary before being published in peer-reviewed journals.

No funding information or financial disclosures were made available. 

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Review Date: 
June 14, 2012
Last Updated:
October 24, 2012